We love a good birthday party around here. In fact, we’ve loved sharing our ideas for Minecraft, Star Wars, MinionFinding Dory, and even storybook birthday parties for your kids. But some of the ideas we’ve seen on Pinterest (or our friends’ Facebook feeds) have us thinking a kid’s birthday party these days can easily cost $500, if not more. Oof!

So, I set out to see whether it’s doable to throw a fun, memorable birthday party for our kids without the hefty price tag. Birthdays on a budget — like, 1/10th of the price. Turns out, it’s possible! For less than $50, we’ve thrown some awesome birthdays for our kids (if we do say so ourselves).

At the end of the day, they’ll have had a great time with their friends, and you’ll have saved enough money for the massage you deserve when the kids go home and the party is cleaned up. Here’s how we did it — in 5 easy steps.

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Related: 12 easy party planning tips, tricks and time-saving hacks.

1. Limit the guest list & send electronic invites

This is probably the hardest part, especially if your child wants to invite their entire class, plus camp friends, and the soccer team. But if you can keep the guest list at 10 kids or less, you’ll have a much better chance of sticking to a budget. Not to mention it’s way easier for you, the organizer, to manage. Giving your child some parameters — their basketball team, the scout troop, or their glee club friends — will help them narrow down, and help you all avoid hurt feelings from kids who weren’t invited.

Then, send your party invitations electronically. I happen to love Paperless Post because their designs are so great, but Evite or Punchbowl are great options too. All options are significantly cheaper than custom invitations (if not free). Plus, your guests can see who else is invited, which helps everyone avoid awkward situations when you’ve limited your guest list.


2. Have a cupcake decorating station instead of an expensive cake

To keep your birthday party on budget, skip the expensive cake and let kids decorate their own cupcakes instead.

I’ve seen birthday cakes in my friends’ Facebook feeds that must have cost as much as my wedding cake. Don’t get me wrong — they’re amazing. But there’s no way I’m spending that kind of money on a kids’ party, especially when I’m throwing four of them a year. Instead, my daughter has started a tradition at her parties of letting friends decorate their own cupcakes, and it has become a huge hit.

One cake mix is plenty for everyone to have 1 or 2 cupcakes (see point #1). Grab a couple different flavors of icing — I usually get chocolate, vanilla, and something colorful. Then I raid my pantry for sprinkles, M&Ms, gummy worms, chocolate chips or anything else that seems like it would be yummy topping. You can even add in printable cupcake toppers.

If weather permits, set this up outside and then let the kids go crazy. Of course, they’ll probably get carried away with over-the-top sugary cupcakes, and this year I had to literally hose them down when they were finished eating, but it was the most fun part of the party.

3. Skip the party favors

I know, I know. Party favors are expectedBut in my mind, the party is the favor; my kids shouldn’t expect to be given a gift after they’ve been treated to cake, fun activities, and an afternoon with their friends. And I have a feeling other parents will appreciate the freedom this gives them to skip out on favors as well.

That said, if you absolutely must give favors, then make them simple (packs of gum, temporary tattoos, pencils) or combine the party activity with the party favor (see #5).

 Related: Throw an awesome birthday party for kids without a lick of planning

4. Play simple outdoor games

Birthday on a budget tip: Plan fun games outside with things you can find in your garage.

Consider hosting your party in the backyard or at a park and then organize games to make it feel a more special than a run-of-the-mill playdate. My son’s obstacle course party included a rope swing over a baby pool, dragging a tire 20 yards, climbing through a rope maze, and good old-fashioned foot races. The kids thought it was elaborate, but it only took about an hour to set up with things we found in our garage. Setting up parents up with super soakers and water balloons along the way added to the excitement.

Birthday party on a budget | hold a simple scavenger hunt, with prizes

Or, if your party is at the park, staple scavenger hunt lists to paper lunch sacks, then award small prizes for the kids who find the most items.

If you’re able to host your party at a pool, you can play fun pool games for the kids in between their rounds of Green River and underwater handstand contests.

Or if your kids’ birthdays are in the winter, plan backyard snowball fights, sledding games, a snowman building contest, and of course, a gourmet hot chocolate bar.

Bonus: with all this activity, if you’re having kids sleepover afterward, they’ll be totally wiped out by bedtime.

5. Make your party activity the party favor

Birthday on a budget: let your party activity double as the party favor, like these birdhouses from Make It Do

A smart idea for sticking to your budget is organizing an activity that the kids will take home as their party favor. We’ve already shared these 10 birthday party crafts that double as party favors, including these adorable birdhouses at Make it Do. Other ideas are to let kids paint their own canvases, build a LEGO creation that they get to keep, or let them make dancing oobleck and take it home.

My personal favorite is a party my kids attended where everyone got to design their own t-shirt. The mom had purchased bulk packages of t-shirts, then organized tables with fabric markers, fabric paint, and other cool embellishments. Little kids did handprint art on theirs, and older kids came up with their own fashionable designs. So simple and clever, and the kids remembered their friend’s birthday party long after it was over whenever they wore their favorite new tee.